Having famously led both Clarecastle and Ballyea to the 2003 County Final, Fergie O’Loughlin returns to Cusack Park with only one team this Sunday as his Clooney-Quin side look to maintain their giant-killing exploits against favourites Sixmilebridge.
Having also trained Kerry to reach the 2013 Christy Ring Cup final and Kilmoyley to Kerry senior honours before contesting last year’s Munster Intermediate Club Final, the Clarecastle native is certainly not short of big game experience which will be required if Clooney-Quin are to pull off their greatest ever triumph.
“I’m only playing a small part in a big, big set-up but I do think it does stand to you that when you do get to finals and in certain situations in games, that experience in being in a county final before as a coach or manager really makes a difference.
“I would hope that I can bring in a little bit of that experience to help the boys because they haven’t been there before and while we have players with All-Ireland final experience, a county final is an unique stage and occasion because you are playing with your friends and people you grew up with and also playing for your family, club and local community whereas at county level its a completely different scenario.
“I suppose before we got to the county final, I was trying to give them a taste of what it was like from my experience of being in a county final, having played in one along with managing one or two teams. There’s a lot that comes with a county final, the hype in the build-up, the colour in the village and what it means to so many people having been so long since Clooney-Quin were there.
“I was basically trying to get the message across of how unique it was going to be before we got to the county final but since we’ve got there, it’s just been unbelievable. Everybody is enjoying the build up and all that goes with it but I suppose the most important thing for us is that the players keep focused on the fact that’s it just another game. Now it’s a big game but it’s another game that we have a job to do next Sunday.”
It’s a mantra that has definitely served them well so far as they bounced back from their opening round defeat to Newmarket-on-Fergus to edge past Feakle after extra-time before catching fire against Whitegate, Éire Óg and Clonlara to get to this lofty stage.
“The blend and balance of our team have improved massively this year. I think the two Corry’s [Jimmy and Michael] have really stepped up to the mark, Ronan O’Donnell has come on in leaps and bounds, Ruaidhri McNamara who suffered a horrific injury a couple of years ago, is now really playing out of his skin this year and I think it’s those four or five players that have really balanced out the team well this year.
“You also have to keep in mind that we weren’t too far away either last year when you think of the game against Ballyea below in the ‘Bridge and what they did afterwards, there was only a puck of the ball between us at the end and maybe we were a bit unlucky as we had a penalty saved that day and also missed a few handy scores.
“So there was always that feeling in the back of our heads that we weren’t too far away and then when this year came, the belief of coming out of tight games and tight corners only increased as the championship went on and with that, the momentum then has been very important from game to game.
“With the way the championship is structured, you play your first round and then there’s a big gap until the next round. So it’s about how a team meets that second part of the championship that is hugely important to building up belief and momentum as the games are coming on a regular basis and I think that Clooney-Quin have a bit of that going for them this year.”
Belief that commenced with that late Peter Duggan goal to force extra-time with Feakle in Round 2 before powering to victory by 2-22 to 2-14.
“I think if look at all championships, tight margins can make-or-break your season. Even taking this year’s football championship in Clare, you look at Clondegad who could tell their own unique story at the end of the year if they go on to win the championship about their tight margins in getting draws in games that they should have won and then persevering in replays.
“So in all championships, there are really tight margins. For us, the Feakle game has been mentioned and mentioned but there were so many positives for us in that game and it wasn’t just that equalising goal that brought it to extra-time. How important that goal was cannot be overstated but before that, we were in total control of the game and playing some super hurling, I think we were six or seven points up after 16 or 17 minutes and like we do for some unknown reason, we allow teams to come back at us and in fairness to Feakle, they took the game to us.
“But I thought we were very smart in the latter end of the game where other teams might have bombarded the ball into the square, we stayed wide and kind of unsettled their shape in front of goal to allow Peter to get the equalising goal. And after that, we pushed on and I knew that their fitness would stand to them in extra-time.
“So certain things in certain games tell a lot about the character of players and I think the overall picture of the Feakle game, there were so many positives to take out of it that I wouldn’t say that we were lucky to get through.
“I thought the game itself showed so much promise and once we got through that game, it was about correcting the few little things that allowed Feakle to come back at us and I think we did that from there on and it has helped us.”
What also proved a crucial factor in boosting Clooney-Quin’s self-belief was their run to the Senior B title at the backend of last year to garner some much-needed senior silverware.
“You look at Clooney-Quin and there was no senior hurling trophy in the village for 42 years or something like that so the Senior B was a very valuable tournament for us. After we were beaten by Ballyea last year, we did set our sights on continuing to train for the Senior B. And once we won that and got a championship under our belts, it was about building on that for 2017.
“So it was a very important win for us and people can write off the Senior B at their peril, those that have no value in winning it but we hadn’t the privilege of writing off any competition and felt we had to go for it
“Of course, we were disappointed to have been knocked out of the championship but we used it as a stepping stone at senior so it was a vital, vital tournament for us.”
Throughout his underage and adult coaching roles for parishioners Clarecastle and Ballyea, Sixmilebridge have always been the team to beat and the same applies on Sunday as in contrast to final debutants Clooney-Quin, their opponents are contesting their fourth final since 2011.
“It’s going to be a massive task for us but we’re in the final and can do something about it. We’re there now and we’re going to be massive underdogs and rightly so as with Sixmilebridge, you have to take your hat off to them as they put in massive work at underage.
“I’ve had massive battles with the ‘Bridge, both for Clarecastle and Ballyea up along, and you just have to admire them in the amount of top quality coaching that they put in from underage up along to senior.
“Therefore I’m not surprised that they have been the team of the decade so far and to be honest, they are the template for every club and they always make sure that when it comes to senior, that they have a continuous influx of players coming through.
“So it’s a really big challenge for Clooney-Quin but let’s be honest, it was a challenge just to get to the final but I’d just be hoping that on the day, we can have a right good cut at them and play to our potential. And if we do, we’ll be there-or-thereabout but if we don’t, Sixmilebridge certainly have the firepower to put a team to bed fairly early as we saw in the final two years ago.
“So we’d just be hoping that we can live with them for most of the game and hopefully get a bit of luck at the end of it.”